CAMPAIGNCRAFT: FORUM - Does being creative in advertising get in the way of a good sell?




To argue ’creativity’ versus ’hard sell’ is to miss the point. The real

issue is why the mightiest bulk of advertising out there falls under the

category mediocre.

Why do I see no lengthy diatribes about the appalling dominance of


Probably because people find the work in question difficult to


It troubles no-one: the ASA, the client, the right-hand side of the

public’s brain, the creative teams’ careers or the sales figures. It

just sits there. Not getting noticed. That’s the real disgrace.

It has been proved a million times over that the most ’creative’ work

’sells’. Where would Haagen-Dazs, Tango, Orange, fcuk, Levi’s and

Guinness be without ’creative’ advertising?

Shite advertising is great as well. It sells stuff. Bounty kitchen roll

is a fine product and Sunny Delight is out of control. No-one talks

about mediocre ads, products or people. If you can describe the ad

without mentioning the brand, it has failed.

Yes, we sell, above anything else. But we also try in so doing not to

insult people’s intelligence or send them to sleep. Unless we’re selling

Nytol, of course.

Does creativity get in the way of a good sell? Never. But mediocrity

does, every single day.



There should be a joint responsibility between the client and the agency

to be custodians of the brand. Advertising can’t be effective unless you

have a great idea. But above all advertising should drive the bottom


I believe that advertising should be compelling rather than


It should encapsulate what the brand and the product stands for, and the

promises it makes should be easy to fulfil. Delivering on your

advertising promise is more important than how the message is


Advertising should be simple, as simplicity equals divinity. Asda’s

advertising conveys a clear message about value, presented in a

compelling way using Asda colleagues. This is important as our

colleagues’ image and attitude is central to our business, more so than

award-winning ads.

Our ads are not creative. Creativity for creativity’s sake risks the

life of the brand as it takes attention away from the idea.

Consistency is also key. Consistently bad advertising is often better

than inconsistently good advertising. What matters is what happens to

the brand. I hope we never win awards for creativity. I’m not interested

in winning an advertising beauty contest that declares we’re king or

queen of the pigs.



The amount of background noise going on in the world around our

consumers means it’s imperative to standout from the crowd. But standout

alone is not enough, it just ends up with everyone shouting all at once

Creativity really captures attention when it rewards the time consumers

have spent watching, reading or listening. If you want my attention then

you can at least pay for it with some creativity.

Advertising is rarely fortunate enough to coincide with the moment a

decision needs to be made. More often ads confirm what we already want

to believe (positive or negative).

One function of creativity is to make the advertising live in the memory

so that something remains when the consumer needs help with


I also believe that we have an environmental responsibility. Advertising

is commerce conducted not merely in the full gaze of the public, but

indeed for the full gaze of the public. We rightly criticise

architecture that is purely functional and does not enhance public

spaces - advertising should face the same scrutiny. If we continue to

pump out environmentally hazardous visual and noise pollution then we

can expect to face more demands for advertising to be restricted.



I would describe creativity in advertising as an idea or device that

causes a target audience to sit up, take notice of, remember and act on

a commercial message.

Sit up and take notice because it is far too easy to be ignored and if

your message is ignored, it is a total waste of money.

I believe passionately that having something ’unusual’ in an ad,

something innovative, something different, is a mighty aid to

effectiveness because people sit up and take notice.

A creative idea should be ’memorable’. Memorability equals cost


You can get through to an audience with the ’chinese water torture’

approach - repetition until they submit - but that’s an expensive way of

doing it.

My definition also requires people to ’act on’ the message, this is

where the client and agency account planners come in. Most of the ads we

deride as crap or self-indulgent are not the fault of the creatives, but

of the lack of a competitive strategy.

My final point is about the definition of ’effectiveness’. Leo Burnett

has conducted a study of Cannes award-winning TV ads over the last ten

years (one definition of ’creativity’) and found that around 90 per cent

had contributed to significant net sales increases (one definition of



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